1 WTC: North Tower
2 WTC: South Tower
3 WTC: Vista Hotel
4 WTC: Southeast Plaza Bldg:
5 WTC: Northeast Plaza Building
6 WTC: U.S. Custom House
7 WTC: Tishman Center
1 WFC: Dow Jones
2 WFC: Merrill Lynch
3 WFC: American Express
(north of Winter Garden)
Circumnavigating the frozen zone
Five fortnights walking the perimeter
Thursday, 11 October: One month. Solemn
ceremonies. The fires at ground zero still are burning.
Tons and tons of debris have been trucked away. The
upright steel skeletons have been trimmed or removed;
from the periphery of the frozen zone, ground zero
no longer has the same perplexing beauty.
9 to 22 October
Copyright © 2001-2005 Diane Fisher
except photos copyright © 2001-2005 by the respective
(I could almost excuse Rudy's ban on cameras if he
announced that the reason is that when seen purely
as visuals, shorn of their meaning, the public New
York part of the series of events that began at 8.47
a.m. ET 11 September have been hideously beautiful.
That terrible guilty secret is something that anybody
with a visual eye has had to deal with every day
since, and that in time will require calm dissection.)
The frozen zone shrinks a bit more. Downtown
restaurants by the dozens have folded. Poor Weber's.
The closeout store already had looked to be on its uppers;
I wonder if it ever will be able to reopen. Another warm,
sunny day, another election--this time the Democratic
runoff; I feel poll fatigue coming on.
photo: Mark Mozaffari
Church Street, 11 September, Weber's in corner
Only F.A.A. heads have rolled in Washington. And the
counterattack goes on in Afghanistan. I watch eagerly but
have yet to see anyone propose a realistic more effective
strategy to prevent future mass murders. We've hit four
U.N. workers but not the Chinese embassy--yet. Let's hope
we don't kill six more innocents, let alone 6000. Given
Taliban insistence on playing games about "evidence"
for nearly four weeks, I don't much care if the bombings
don't play well in the Muslim world. Look what the evidence
that convicted the first WTC bombers got us. Refraining
from bombing al Qaeda and Taliban targets will hardly win
the hearts of people who devote their lives to piety and
nursing grievances against the great infidel.
I wonder if the people who first offer the brief obligatory
statement that the murders were most unfortunate, then
expound at length on how they really were the U.S.'s fault,
showed earlier signs of sociopathy. At the same time,
anyone who despairs of braindead U.S. foreign policies
has to wrestle with the question of how they can be
altered in our lifetimes without appearing to reward
pure evil. The popular Israeli response that "now
the U.S. knows what it feels like" is a profound
insult--as if the U.S. had ever called Palestinians
lice, bulldozed their homes and orchards, and shot
their children. U.S. troops stationed in Saudi Arabia
with the consent of the Saudi government is hardly
equivalent to settling the West Bank with multitudes
of junior Meir Kahanes. Unless someone can disabuse
Israel's rabid right of the illusion that 11 September
suddenly turned Americans (except a few unstable xenophobes)
into fellow Arab-haters, it seems we're going to continue
hearing the demented proposal that the U.S. now treat
Arafat as an enemy of this country--at that,
an enemy the equal of bin Laden.
Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice is on the phone appealing to
network tv executives to suppress the news. bin Laden has
no better way to send coded messages to his troops than
in propaganda statements? Pure WWII war comics stuff. But
the executive branch--more specifically, Colin Powell's
son--controls broadcast licenses and the tv execs no doubt
will show their patriotism by forfeiting the First Amendment
and, as usual, their responsibility to keep Americans as
well informed as they can.
My own phone rings. "Hello. This is Mario Cuomo."
Click. I already know who Mario wants me to vote for.
Marc's eulogy is so stylishly composed, punctuation
and spelling were so letter-perfect, I must admit that
by the time I'd transcribed it twice I began wondering
if it's an exercise in creative writing. Oh, well. If so,
it's no less honorable. Phone rings again. "This is
Ed Koch." Click. Not only do I know who Ed wants
me to vote for, I wouldn't want to hear his reaction to
what I think about his loose cannon pal Ariel. I still
haven't cabled my new CD changer and VCR. Rereading Mimi
Gauthier LeBien's "Accidental
Tourist at Ground Zero"--if strictly speaking
she was near, not "at," so what--brings back
how that first warm, sunny primary day and the days
after felt. I don't suppose I'll ever understand what
I did that morning, but it's clear now that writing
this has been a psychic necessity, an attempt to make
something coherent of what I can, small moments, pebbles
scattered around a central event of such magnitude it
may never be comprehensible to me.
Saturday, 13 October: I turn on the radio
and doze off again. I half-hear a book discussed
I'd like to read and make a mental note to look
at it next time I'm in Borders. Then I remember
and am wide awake. Later on the same station
I hear a little girl talk about the eye signals
she and her friends have developed to warn each
other in case they run into bin Laden. I'd be
willing to bet they also take a long leap into bed.
Thursday, 18 October, inside the frozen zone,
at ground zero: I know the intersection of Church and
Vesey streets. I understand its traffic patterns, I
know its rhythms. I stand now on the Federal Building
corner. Toward the Hudson where I should see a pedestrian
bridge I never crossed is a Vesey Street I don't
know, the 7WTC rubble and--as on the other streets
south of Chambers, west of Church--behind chainlink
fence, heavy equipment. I know the remaindered
computer book vendor who should be operating from a
folding table in front of the Federal Building, the
blonde whose haircut I want on the poster in the Louis
D. window across Church Street. Up Vesey a door or two
is the Stage Door Deli. Does a sign in the window still
advertise spaghetti with your choice of sauce, $4.99?
Opposite them on Vesey is St. Paul's graveyard, names
and dates worn off headstones by centuries of exposure.
Men in reflective vests stand in twos and threes talking
in Church Street near the subway entrance. A stone's
throw beyond them down Church Street, next to the pile,
everywhere, earth-moving equipment chugging this way
and that. The big, round planted concrete barriers in
front of the Borders doors in the still standing 5WTC
across Vesey that direction are intended to stop car bombers
without unduly alarming anyone else. A lot of people use
them as ash trays. I stare at the Borders signs, at the
lone plate glass window broken on the Vesey Street side.
Above the sheltering overhang, windows all are gone.
The street sign is only slightly bent. Because 5WTC
stands, I can't see the pile. That's just as well.
The smoke stinks, but that's not why I can hardly get
my breath. I've never experienced a sensation like this
in my life. My long life. The intensity of this place
is suffocating me. I walk no farther. I don't belong.
The men and women here have work to do and nobody else
has any moral right to be here. I turn and walk back
up the wet street, past the officers with hoses at the
Mandatory Vehicle Wash sign, toward the periphery of
the frozen zone and the world where the rest of us do
whatever it is we do.
<update: 14 April 2002>
Friday, 19 October, inside the
blue-collar-bar-and-restaurant- turned-relief station
on Canal Street near the Holland Tunnel entrance:
Everybody here is part of the recovery effort.
Almost everybody here is a cop but not necessarily
NYPD. This is no place for rubberneckers, and today
I am not one. Women serve from the hot table with
a warm smile for every taker. The first has glanced
at my identifying insignia and greets me by name.
I sit alone near the door, eating at the bar.
A flurry next to me, photographs. The greetings
of all of the children from all over America on the
walls downtown are beautiful. The greetings of the
children of a very poor school district in southern
Texas are now being delivered. The children of Palito
Blanco Elementary School of the Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco
district have done something special. They made a
crib-size quilt, and this quilt is nothing short of
a work of art. School board official Oscar Garcia and
his wife, Vilma, have delivered the quilt to the right
place, and a place of honor is found for it on the wall
above where the recovery workers eat. This loving quilt
from the "Home of the Lil' Badgers" with
its Lone Star State maps and American flag--buttons
representing stars--and personal messages deserves a
place of honor on a wall of the Museum of 11 September
that in time surely must be built.
While Mrs. Garcia and I are chatting, a man stands
on a chair and introduces the mayor of Oklahoma City.
The mayor of Oklahoma City stands on the chair and
makes an encouraging speech that is affecting and
effective, short on slogans and long on empathy. He
knows whereof he speaks and his listeners know it.
They applaud him several times. I've heard a lot of
mayoral speeches (I have in fact written more than
a few). He's good, this guy. He concludes by telling
them that they've seen things no one should ever have
to see and--citing some Oklahoma City before-and-after
statistics regarding, e.g., divorce--he emphatically
urges them all to get counseling to deal with the
inevitable consequences. Not the kind of speech one
expects to hear a mayor deliver to uniformed services.
I only came into this relief station to grab a bite.
Other signs of the times. In the window of the
carpenters union building on Hudson Street:
"ALL WORKING CARPENTERS
ARE ORDERED TO RETURN TO THEIR VARIOUS JOBS.
Construction everywhere in the city, I'd heard, had
ground to a near-standstill. Every laborer, skilled
and unskilled, went to ground zero and wouldn't budge.
"The government has informed the New York City
District Council of Carpenters that it is imperative
for the economic existence of our City and Nation
that we complete the various office projects around
the city as the loss of the World Trade Center and
other nearby buildings will have a tremendous
negative impact on businesses and untold economic
hardship on thousands, which will have a domino
effect on other businesses.
"During times of war some factories produced
airplanes. During this war WE MUST BUILD
In the window of a bar named Antarctica, on Hudson
just above the tunnel:
"The firehouse on 6th Ave.
So now I know. That's the firehouse that already
lost three of New York's bravest on Watts Street.
I wonder when I'll ever be able to walk through
that block on Sixth Avenue again.
just south of Houston lost
11 of New York's bravest.
Stop by to express your
sorrow and gratitude."
Monday, 22 October: With another detour to Hoboken,
today with my friend Stephen, I complete the excursion
I started 11 September: J&R reopened today. The wind
shifts to the northeast, skies turn gloomy, diagonally
across the St. Paul's block the fires burn, and I shop
without joy. As we drink coffee, sitting on the same
stools where I sat a few weeks ago with Luisa from
Chicago watching the Broadway street scene, Stephen
tells me people-watching long ago lost its charm for
him--unthinkable to me; he longs for tree-watching
Nearing home I brace myself. Hanging from the roof
of the seven-storey red brick apartment building next
to the firehouse on Sixth Avenue just below Houston
22 July 2002>,
reaching nearly to the ground, a white banner about
a yard wide bears thousands of highlighter signatures,
so many one can easily believe that the legend is
literal: "Love and prayers from all the people
Sign in the office window above the shrine of flowers
and candles, patches from farflung fire departments,
messages--many from children, and a thick condolences
book in front of the firehouse:
TO OUR BROTHERS,|
WE LOVE YOU ALL
BC Bill McGovern
BC Richard Prunty
LT Vinny Giammona
LT Mike Warchola
FF John Santore
FF Tommy Hannafin
FF Greg Saucedo
FF Paul Keating
FF Louie Arena
FF Andy Brunn
FF Faustino Apostol